Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lowest Game Scores in a Win

A pitcher's Game Score is a quick and dirty way of examining his effectiveness during a particular start. Originally created by Bill James, it's found through this formula:
  1. Start with 50 points.
  2. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (3 points per inning).
  3. Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th.
  4. Add 1 point for each strikeout.
  5. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
  6. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed.
  7. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed.
  8. Subtract 1 point for each walk.
It's available plenty of places, but I took that from ESPN.com's MLB Best Games page which contains a handy-dandy list of the best game scores of the season. Ricky Nolasco's nine-inning, eleven-strikeout shutout of the Giants last Tuesday gave him the highest game score by an NL pitcher in 2008 - neat.

Anyway, game score is a neat little tool because it rewards starters who go deep into a game while striking out a lot of enemy batters and preventing opposing baserunners and runs. That's pretty common sensical-like. For more basic trivia about game scores, check out the Game Score Wikipedia article.

The reason I bring up game scores ultimately has to do with abysmal pitching. I'm sure most baseball fans can think of an awful outing by a starting pitcher who managed to come away with a win. As luck would have it, Matt Harrison of the Rangers had such a win earlier this month. On August 10, he gave up six runs on ten hits and two walks in five innings and was the winning pitcher in a 15-7 slugfest. While other pitchers have given up more runs in a start and come away with a win (Russ Ortiz, for one), you get the idea.

I want to look at the lowest game scores by a winning starting pitcher since 1956. Matt Harrison's win two weeks ago came with a game score of 21 and Russ Ortiz's bad day I linked to had a game score of 22 thanks to his seven strikeouts. There have been even lower game scores coupled with pitching wins. They were achieved, obviously, by pitchers who didn't strike out many batters while scattering hits and walks around the yard en route to a bunch of runs scored against them. Below is the list of the twenty-seven games since 1956 in which a starting pitcher with a game score of 19 or lower was the winning pitcher. The dates listed link to the box score of the game.

Lowest Game Scores by a Winning Pitcher, 1956-2008

Pitching Line
Ike Delock6/14/1956BOSCLE10-9195.1 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 2 K
Rick Waits8/4/1979CLETEX12-8195.1 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
Rick Aguilera8/8/1985NYMMON14-7195.0 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 0 K
Jimmy Jones7/30/1987SDPCIN12-8195.0 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K
Mike Mussina7/1/1994BALCAL14-7195.0 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Bobby Witt4/25/1998TEXKCR11-8195.0 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 0 K
Brian Bohanon6/15/1999COLSFG15-6195.0 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 4 K
Chris Peters8/30/1999PITCOL11-8195.0 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
Ken Holtzman5/28/1969CHCSFG9-8185.0 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 4 K
Charles Hudson6/11/1985PHINYM26-7185.0 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Steve Woodard5/11/2000MILCHC14-8185.0 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
Jake Westbrook7/31/2005CLESEA9-7185.2 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
Bob Rush5/12/1956CHCSTL14-10175.1 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
Don Sutton5/5/1976LADCHC14-12175.2 IP, 14 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Todd Stottlemyre4/23/1992TORCLE13-8176.2 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Sid Roberson6/30/1995MILNYY12-6175.0 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 2 K
Shawn Estes7/6/1999SFGSDP10-9175.0 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
Bill Campbell8/3/1975MINCHW12-9165.2 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 6 BB, 3 K
Kirk Rueter6/12/1999SFGSEA15-11165.1 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
Casey Daigle5/10/2004ARINYM12-8155.0 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K
Jaret Wright4/18/2005NYYTBD19-8155.1 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
Jae Seo5/24/2007TBDSEA13-12155.0 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Don Sutton5/31/1979LADSFG12-10146.2 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 5 K
Jon Garland4/13/2006CHWDET13-9145.0 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
Andy Pettitte9/29/2007NYYBAL11-10145.0 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 0 K
Dan Haren8/21/2006OAKTOR12-10135.2 IP, 11 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Woody Williams4/7/2001SDPCOL14-10125.0 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 0 BB, 3 K

As you can see, the difference between Woody Williams' start and many of the ones above it is negligible - a hit, walk, or strikeout here or there accounts for the difference in game scores and if you've given up nine runs in five innings, who really cares how you did it, right? The same can be said for most of the games listed here. That said, there's something special about having a unique combination of innings, hits, walks, strikeouts, and runs allowed among all winning pitchers in the past 52 years. I'm sure Woody Williams was glad to forget April 7, 2001, but he still got the win and (retroactively) a very dubious distinction for his trouble.

I also found the number of good pitchers on the list interesting. Hall of Famer Don Sutton shows up twice while more recent 200-game winners Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte also appear. It might not mean as much anymore, but besides those three, nine more pitchers on the list were named to the All-Star team at least once. I guess it just goes to show you that any pitcher can have a bad day...and any pitcher can have his team's bats let him off the hook.


KL Snow said...

I don't find the number of good pitchers on this list surprising at all. You have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games, and you have to be a pretty good pitcher for a manager to think you can still keep the team in the game, even after you've given up 9 runs in 3 innings. There have probably been an awful lot of rookies/short MLB career type guys who were well on their way to this type of start in the second or third inning, but were pulled early and sent back to AAA after the game.

Theron Schultz said...

Yeah, you're probably right. Where a veteran might be allowed to go his 100 pitches/five innings/whatever to help spare the bullpen, a rookie might be pulled to save his confidence, no matter the consequences to the rest of the pitching staff.

The Lazer said...

Jay, while I'm not shocked entirely that only two pitchers at Coors pre-fences moved and humidor made the list, it's pretty shocking that as bad as the Rangers pitching has been over the years, not a single one on the list was in Arlington. any thoughts?

Theron Schultz said...

You're right, Texas has always seemed to have a good offense and bad pitching, so I would've thought more than just one Rangers pitcher would've been on the list. I don't know - maybe it's just not a Texas thing to have a starter burn a few innings when he's getting shelled?

For what it's worth, the lowest game score for a Texas pitcher in a win at home is 22, done by John Burkett on July 22, 1999.

Bopperland said...

Interesting study, as it appears this is a common performance measure that has been around for a while. Never heard of it!

Your list has an intriguing spread of players with varying pitching ability, and hardly any duplicates. That says this phenomenon is more flukey than a trend.

Have you considered also disclosing the highest game score in a loss (the reverse study)? Where the pitcher in your study is somewhat rescued by his teammates, this study shows where they let him down.

Theron Schultz said...

I'll probably put up the highest game scores tomorrow. I would say that appearing on this list is definitely a fluky thing--pretty much any pitcher who consistently gives him team chances to let him win with a low game score won't be in the majors very long. Everyone here happened to be lucky on a day they weren't good at all. Both the luck and the bad day could happen to a pitcher at any talent level.

While this is a fluky list for pitchers, a fluky list for hitters would be guys who hit for the cycle. It's not a perfect comparison, but there are few duplicates and players both good and bad (Eric Valent? Chad Moeller?) are on that list, too.